SPORTS

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May 9, 2008

A fixture behind home plate, Pineros set offensive pace

As a lefty catcher, fourth-year Vanessa Pineros drew attention the minute she stepped behind the plate. What really set her apart within the Maroons, though, wasn’t which hand she wore her glove on but her confidence as a player and her leadership ability.

With a long softball career that goes back to tee ball and travel teams by the time she was 14, Pineros has made the walk from the dugout to the diamond hundreds of times, but her walk has usually been a short one. The

Mukilteo, WA, native had a brief stint at shortstop in middle school before parents talked to the coach, who moved her behind the plate to catch full time, trading one unconventional left-handed position on the infield for another one.

“I was traumatized,” Pineros said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe these parents are bringing their own agenda in here.’”

Despite the abnormality of her switch, Pineros hasn’t run into many problems hanging onto her catcher’s gear. If the Maroons’ pitching or coaching staff thought that there was anything odd about it, they quickly adjusted.

“We had a pitcher who worked with Vanessa an entire year and didn’t even notice that she was left handed,” head coach Ruth Kmak said.

Over the past four years, Pineros has gotten to know her battery mates so well that this season she got handed the stat sheets a few times to call pitches from the dugout for absent assistant coach Kelly Ostler. Although she found the task a bit nerve-wracking at first, Pineros soon relished the job and realized that she had the knowledge to call the same game that Ostler would.

Her confidence in filling in for Ostler is one example of the chief characteristics that distinguish Pineros on the team and show how she has developed the most as a player. Joining the squad as one of three first-years in her rookie season, Pineros felt the pressure to earn her way onto the field.

Getting 17 starts out of 35 games in 2005, she batted .171 for the spring and collected one RBI.

“I didn’t step out there, I didn’t take the risk that was necessary,” Pineros said. “I realized that it was ridiculous because I knew from before that I was a good hitter, I was a good catcher. It took a total change in my mental game to get me where I got myself my junior year.”

With her newfound aggression at the plate, Pineros went from the bottom of Chicago’s offense to swinging its hottest bat in just one season. In 2006, she led the squad with a .329 average and a .390 slugging percentage.

Last season, Pineros upped the ante. She figured prominently on a team that transformed into a power lineup overnight, turning in her best season as the Maroons doubled their run production from 2006 and secured their second consecutive trip to NCAAs.

Topping the charts in most offensive categories, Pineros set the standard in 2007 for batting average (.427), on-base percentage (.511), RBI (22), doubles (10), and walks (19). She also roped a triple and two homeruns and contributed the team’s second-highest slugging percentage of .581.

“All I needed was to look the pitcher in the eye and say, ‘I’m about to hit this ball. I feel bad for you because you can’t throw one by me.’ That’s kind of a weird attitude to talk about, but that’s what you need in your head,” Pineros said.

That kind of mentality was more than just talk before stepping into the batter’s box. Pineros more often than not made contact, striking out 11 times in 324 at bats since her second year.

In her final season, Pineros’s production at the plate slipped and third-year shortstop Jen Jacobson rose as the heavy hitter. Even though she didn’t lead the way in stats this spring, she kept her can’t-beat-me mentality and continued her role as a team leader.

“That belief in herself really separates her from a lot of players, especially at the plate,” Kmak said.

Her confidence also made her an example for the rest of the Maroons to follow. Not the most vocal player, Pineros was the type of teammate who hustled at every practice and built close relationships with everyone on the squad.

From here, Pineros leaves Hyde Park for the University of Pennsylvania, where she has a full scholarship to attend medical school.

“She’s a very well rounded person and excels in everything that she does,” Kmak said.

Although Pineros figured out the key to personal success on and off the field and became a leading force on the team, she isn’t one to demand the spotlight. Her personal achievements come second to congratulating her teammates on home runs and reflecting on the squad’s efforts to make regionals.

“I love team sports. I couldn’t play an individual sport,” Pineros said. “My success is nothing unless it’s my team’s success, and the team’s success is all that matters. Everyone being there for each other is the best part of the game.”